Government accounting

A Few Curious Folks Wonder Out Loud if Government Accounting is Constitutional

I remember my very first installment of government accounting as it is taught in FAR like it was yesterday. Cranky from a 5am wakeup and not necessarily looking forward to spending an entire day stuck in CPA review class for work, I usually tuned out my overly-caffeinated boss ripping bad jokes and scribbling T accounts […]

If the Federal Government Were a Business, It Would Be WorldCom

Deroy Murdock seems to feel that the government should revisit its accounting practices since it appears government accounting is little more than legal fraud. Obviously he has absolutely no idea how accounting really works or he’d call the entire thing fraudulent (I mean, let’s be real, it is and everyone knows it), so let’s humor his opinion for a moment and consider government accounting.

Rep. John Shimkus (R., Ill.) grilled Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius about this before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. He wondered how, in essence, the Obama administration could move $500 billion from its left pocket (Medicare) to its far-left pocket (Obamacare) and somehow finance $1 trillion worth of Medicare and Obamacare.

“Your law cuts $500 billion in Medicare,” Shimkus reminded Sebelius at a March 3 hearing. “Then you’re also using the same $500 billion to say you’re funding health-care [reform]. Your own actuary says you can’t do both.”

“So,” the eight-term congressman continued, “are you using it [the $500 billion] to save Medicare, or are you using it to fund health-care reform? Which one?”

Secretary Sebelius confessed: “Both.”

“So, you’re double-counting,” Shimkus replied.

“The same dollar can’t be used twice,” observed Health Subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Pitts (R., Pa.). “This is the largest of the many budget gimmicks Democrats used to claim Obamacare would reduce the deficit.”

As any college business major knows, such double counting would earn a big, fat F on an accounting final. Far worse, this is illegal.

Obviously Joe Pitts is not at all familiar with how accounting works. The funny part, as Murdock points out, is that the SEC does not consider non-GAAP financial statements to be anything but misleading and inaccurate. It’s a good thing the federal government won’t be trying to file an IPO any time soon.

Peep Title 17, Part 210 of the Code of Federal Regulations:

Financial statements filed with the Commission which are not prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles will be presumed to be misleading or inaccurate.

Question: is there a particular reason “generally accepted accounting principles” is not capitalized? Because GAAP and gaap are two different things, one of which is a set of rules (not principles, no matter what James Kroeker may believe) while the other is basically a bunch of bullshit that we call “accounting” and agree is OK. Sort of like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell for financial statements.

Bill Gates Has Less Than Flattering Things to Say About Government Accounting

“[R]eally, when you get down to it, the guys at Enron never would have done this. This is so blatant, so extreme,” Gates said of state governments’ accounting practices generally. “Is anyone paying attention to some of the things these guys do? They borrow money — they’re not supposed to, but they figure out a way — they make you pay more in withholding to help their cashflow out, they sell off the assets, they defer the payments, they sell off the revenues from tobacco.” [HuffPo]

Here’s The Only Guide to Your Accounting Career You’ll Ever Need

As many of you already know, when an accountant walks into a room of non-accountants and tells everyone what he does for a living, the first question is usually “can you do my taxes?” That stereotype was exactly what industry veteran Stan Ross hoped to blow to bits when he worked with the AICPA to create the new book The Inside Track to Careers in Accounting.

“The bell rang when the grandkids kept asking ‘what is an accountant and what do you do?'” he told us. Wanting to answer that question without simply printing out a picture of a guy hunched over a 10-key in a green eyeshade, Ross put together a guide to various career paths inorate, government and non-profit accounting. It includes interviews with industry rockstars like Ernst & Young’s Jim Turley and former AICPA chairman Ernie Almonte. Hundreds of industry experts and professionals were interviewed in the development process, with the best of those included in the book and accompanying CD-ROM.

Covering everything from education to licensure, compensation to careers, Ross cut no corners to put together an all-in-one resource for those considering accounting as a career or even accountants looking to switch career paths and take on a new specialty.

The Big 4, et al.

Those interested in a career dedicated to public accounting will find tips on getting hired, moving up the corporate ladder, interning and even dealing with awkward intergenerational exchanges. One excellent piece of advice: “From the moment you start with the firm, try to learn as much as you can in your current position, and learn from your supervisors, the people you work with and others in the firm. Ask questions not just about your current position or work assignments, but about the larger firm, its organization, its services and its people.”

Who needs public?

If corporate accounting is more your style, you can follow the corporate ladder from staff accountant to CFO, working in management accounting (sorry, that means cost accounting too), payroll, A/P, internal auditing, financial reporting, tax or IT. Corporate accountants can also work in forecasting, working closely with department managers, the CFO and/or top executives within the organization to weigh in on the company’s plans and budget forecasts. As of 2007, there are 31 million businesses in the United States and they made a combined $26 trillion in revenue – don’t you think those businesses need sharp talent to crunch their numbers?

Are you good enough for government work?

Let’s not forget about government accounting. Ross told us that he initially did not even plan on putting in a separate chapter for government but in his research for this book, he discovered that there are unlimited possibilities in government and it just made sense to put them in. “When we talked to government people and regulators, we found out how many different career paths were there; city, state, county, all the agencies, the Federal Reserve… it was unlimited!” he said. Those interested in a government accounting career could find themselves working for the State Department, NASA, the FAA, the DOD, the GAO, the FBI, the IRS and many other agencies. You can find more information on opportunities in government (a booming industry when everyone else is hurting, you know) via the AICPA’s website here.

Forget profits

Last but not least, Ross highlights opportunities in non-profit accounting. Non-profit includes public charities as well as universities, private foundations, HMOs, labor unions and business/professional organizations. According to the book, The Conference Board said in a 2007 report that “widespread executive-level and leadership skill shortages currently affecting many nonprofits are predicted to get much worse as the sector expands and experience executives retire.” That means the sector needs qualified accountants who, unfortunately, can expect to earn less than for-profit positions but get reimbursed through warm fuzzy feelings and real world experience with non-profit accounting.

Ross reminds all of us that the best bet is always to seek out a mentor (or several) and use their knowledge to your advantage. Want to switch career paths? Track someone down who already has and ask questions. Want to find out the quickest way to climb the public accounting ladder? Listen to someone who’s done it already and learn from their mistakes and experience. Ross himself mentors hundreds of USC students and you better believe mentored students have a better chance to be promoted as they’ve gotten a broader picture of their future industry outside of the traditional black and white of their accounting school textbooks.

So whether you’re miserable in your current position or just starting out in your accounting career and trying to figure out which path to take, The Inside Track to Careers in Accounting will give you plenty of food for thought and useful information on what lies ahead, regardless of which fork in the road you head down. Accounting is no longer just doing taxes (as if it ever was) and, as Ross says, it is the best foundation for any career path, be that CFO, COO, investment officer or just about any corporate world gig dealing even indirectly with budgeting, finance and economics.

Ya get it? We hope so.

Georgia Voters Will Decide on the Use of Accrual Accounting by the Department of Transportation

Interestingly enough, Caleb just covered accrual vs cash here on Going Concern the other day. Not interestingly enough, as a subsection of the Georgia state government, the Georgia DOT’s only option is government accounting and that sure as hell ain’t accrual. Apparently Georgia governor Sonny Perdue is hip to this accounting trick that just can’t be tapped and is questioning whether or not the DOT has the legal authority to use accrual for multi-year state funding commitments.

The short answer, without being an authority on matters of accounting legality, is HELL no. They better stick to fund accounting like every other government agency but that comes with its own set of flaws. See also: 49 of 50 states facing massive budget deficits.


If you aren’t familiar with government accounting, let me make it very simple: in regular accounting, balance sheets balance. Companies shoot for assets to outweigh liabilities and if they don’t for an extended period of time, shareholders bail and the company goes under.

In government accounting, there is no real concept of “balance” and it’s all about expenditures and estimates of spending that have little connection with actual money coming in. Most government agencies would be crippled if they were forced to institute GAAP, even with the magic of government accounting we have already witnessed from the smallest municipality to entire sovereign nations.

Anyway, in 2008, an audit of DOT practices concluded that accrual accounting was a violation of Georgia’s constitution (and the sanctity of government accounting fortheloveofsweetbabyJesus) but DOT officials claim that sweating their questionable accounting methods prevents the state from funding important road projects.

Again, magic on paper, garbage in practical application. Accounting methods are not meant to turn insolvency into funding, they are merely options and their use should not be abused for users. Seriously.

Georgia voters will be trusted with resolving the issue. Better start reading some Advanced Accounting textbooks, Georgia voters, you’ll need them to pick the right door on this little game show.

Voters to weigh on DOT accounting system [Atlanta Business Chronicle]